Oliver Ball

Pre-DHC experience?

I was a business development (strategy) analyst in the cell and gene therapy space.

You joined Dark Horse just this month (November, 2020). What are your first impressions?

That the skillset on tap here is unique. It’s unusual to have a firm that works exclusively in cell and gene therapy so I cannot think of another example in which consultants have this much expertise and are this focused on this exact industry. When I was going through my masters’ program I remember writing about Geron as part of the curriculum because it’s an industry case study now, and when I found out about the Geron connections here, that was a “green flag” for me in terms of the caliber and tenure of the team. This team mixes and matches the true industry OGs with fresh new talent: the best of both worlds.

What would you tell people who are considering applying here?

I’ve noticed that the culture values how each person’s expertise fits into a larger narrative, so besides a very high expectation for domain-specific skills, you should also be aware of what’s happening in the industry—broader trends—to provide you with perspective as to how your knowledge intersects with the big picture.

What is your sense of the current seeming trend of FDA delays and rejections in the space?

Well, at the birth of the industry I think FDA was keen to facilitate and enable pioneering innovation. They were successful in that, in that there’s now an extraordinary amount of potential therapeutic product in the pipeline, so now it looks like they’re balancing out the risk profile so as to skew somewhat towards caution. It feels like the right time in the industry’s life cycle for this to be happening; after all, protecting the public’s health and safety is the top priority. Challenges to the field don’t pose any existential risk anymore. Additionally, we’re now looking at much larger patient populations. For orphan indications or last-resort cases, a different type of risk profile was more acceptable.

What made you decide to enter the Cell & Gene Therapy industry?

I grew up reading science magazines and was always interested in the science of advanced therapies, and being part of a growing industry at a young age was an easy choice to make. The question for me became a consideration of what the entry points into the field were, and which was right for me. The industry is maturing so quickly and there are now so many opportunities: beyond the post-doc route, for example, you can apply to an apprenticeship program and work your way up in manufacturing operations. The government here in the UK is actively supporting this in an effort to get people into the space at earlier stages. I wanted a space where I could forge my own career path and create a role for myself, though; I haven’t ever been the type to have a ten-year plan or follow a set path. Admittedly, having a crystal-clear goal and path to follow would have made things easier, sometimes, but I believe in living my truth and for me, that means creating my own opportunities.

What's something you see in the future of the industry?

Related to my answer above, I’m watching for another inflection point: one where the industry has developed enough to train people properly from the ground up. Right now there’s a substantial skill shortage at the graduate level of those who perhaps don’t have a Ph.D. but who want to get into the manufacturing, operations, or analytical side of things. Soon the companies leading this industry are going to have enough space and bandwidth to train in-house rather than poaching people from the closest adjacent fields they can find.

What do you like to do in your spare time?

This is a trendy thing at the moment, but I do love rock-climbing. To my way of seeing it, enough people got tired of golf and moved over to bouldering (the urban version of mountaineering). When you climb outside of a bouldering gym it’s a great way to get outside and exercise informally, especially if you’re someone who likes to pursue a challenge solely because it is a challenge. You can enjoy the process and apply yourself to something difficult just for the sake of completing it. I had a week off before joining Dark Horse and I went to Greece with friends, one of whom brought a drone camera, which is how I got the shot we’re featuring in this profile.

Oliver Ball, Rock Climbing (picture taken from drone, far back, showing the sheer rock face)

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